Saturday, May 26, 2012

On 26 May...

On 26 May 1892, the Free Church General Assembly passed the Declaratory Act anent the Confession of Faith. (For previous posts in this series see here and here). The Constitutionalists opposing it dissented from it in the strongest of terms. They stated that “the Church is left without any definite, fixed or authoritative standard of doctrine”. Some have tried retrospectively to justify the decision to remain under the Declaratory Act until 1900. The following questions and answers deal with these assertions.

8.Was it not simply a "relieving Act"?

This was a phrase coined in 1894 by Dr Rainy to appease conservatives.  The phrase reveals the whole problem.  The Act relieved office-bearers from confessing and subscribing to certain doctrines in the Confession of Faith that they otherwise must subscribe to. These were, however, doctrines embedded in the very constitution of the Church. The fact that it was a relieving Act did not nullify the damaging fact that it violated the Constitution of the Free Church by destroying the meaning of the Confession and Formula. It is noteworthy that the dissent tabled by the remaining Constitutionalists in 1894 acknowledged that the Declaratory Act had been confirmed "as a law of the Church, binding upon the Church courts in the administration of discipline".

9.Was it not possible to have remained in the Free Church without being "under" the Act as individuals?

This is a mistake.
a). Take for instance a presbytery that refused to licence a student who wished to appeal to the Declaratory Act.  The decision could be appealed against and the Presbytery would undoubtedly have been ordered by Synod or Assembly to give the student his legal right of recourse to the Act. They would have had to proceed to licensing.  This proved that noone could avoid obedience to the Act.
b). As Presbyterians each individual was responsible for the actions of the Church as a whole. When a Presbyterian Church by a competent majority changes its creed and constitution, the party opposed to this change has no alternative but to separate from the majority. In a Presbyterian Church each office-bearer discharges his vows to maintain the whole doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith not simply as an individual but as a member of a Church.  The Free Church departed from the whole doctrine of the Confession so far that it was impossible to discharge these vows.  A presbytery is unable to assert, maintain and defend the truth when it does not know and is not permitted to enquire whether or not the students that it licenses make mental appeal to rank heresy (the Declaratory Act).
c). The individual may not have been compelled to accept the doctrines of the Declaratory Act but if his congregation were more swayed by the official position of the Church his preaching would they listen to the "minority opinions" that he expressed in his preaching?
d). The individual was compelled to allow others to accept the doctrines of the Declaratory Act.  As an Act of the Church the Declaratory Act was obligatory and the individual was bound to recognise and acknowledge its operation. It is as sinful to give liberty to others to believe false doctrine as to believe it oneself.

10. Was there therefore any way to refuse to administer the Declaratory Act?

There was no way to refuse to administer the Act and those who believe that the Free Church preserved a right of continued protest are mistaken since either this principle was not important to them or they were happy to deny themselves continued protest.  The terms of their dissent in 1894 as referred to above show that they were concerned that administration of the Act was in fact binding upon them. Either way, it was impossible for those who remained to continue to fulfil their ordination vows or to exonerate their consciences.

11. What was Rev. D. MacFarlane's response?

Rev. D. MacFarlane read a protest at the 1893 Assembly after the passing into law of the Declaratory Act. Stating that since the Act was now retained in the constitution of the Free Church, the Church "ceases to be the true representative of the Free Church of Scotland".  MacFarlane added, "neither my conscience nor my ordination vows allow me to act under what has now been made law in this Church".

12.  Why did the Free Presbyterian Church never repeal the Declaratory Act?

The Free Presbyterian Church made a complete break with the Declaratory Act Church in taking up a separate position and therefore never had this Act on its statute book, so there was no need to repeal it.

For more on the intricate questions surrounding the constitutional issues of separation in 1893 as against 1900 see 1893, 1900 and Church Authority.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Schools in England will be sent copies of the King James Bible from this week to mark its 400th anniversary. Every state primary and secondary school in England is to receive a copy of the King James Bible.

Around 24,000 Bibles are being distributed to schools this week by the Department for Education to mark last year’s 400th anniversary of its publication. The Bibles, which have been published by the Oxford University Press, are accompanied by a letter from Michael Gove.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, described it as the most ‘important book written in the English language’. ‘The King James Bible has had a profound impact on our culture. Every school pupil should have the opportunity to learn about  this book and the impact it has had on our history, language, literature and democracy.’

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the Church at St Cross College, Oxford University, said the King James Bible ‘represents the culmination of a century of Biblical translation in the first golden age of modern English literature’.

The Right Reverend John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, said: ‘This is a fitting way of marking the seminal contribution this version of the Bible has made to our culture. It symbolically places the King James Bible at the heart of the educational process which it inspired.’

Professor David Crystal, author of Begat: the King James Bible and the English language:

'However one sees the King James Bible – whether as inspired text, great literature, cultural identifier, or political stimulus – the fact remains that it has played an unparalleled role in influencing the oratorical and literary style of many writers in English and shaping the expressive character of the language as a whole. Young people are fascinated by the history of their language, when it is presented to them in a vivid and lively way, and to hear the biblical stories that led to such idioms as "salt of the earth" and "fly in the ointment", or (at a younger level) "no room at the inn" and "the land of Nod" is an excellent way of broadening their linguistic horizons and developing their appreciation of the expressive range of English. Having the text easily available will help make this happen.'

There are plenty of teaching resources to help...more...more...more...more

Friday, May 11, 2012

competing presbyterian denominations

A recent blog post counts up 11 Presbyterian denominations in Scotland. Another blog analyses shrewdly the reasons for this.

Should we be indifferent about the increasing number of competing presbyterian denominations? How does this relate to the unity of the visible Church emphasised in Scripture? This booklet addresses the sensitive area of schism in order to draw some applications for the contemporary context with help from the biblical views of older presbyterian writers. Available here as a free download.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

one visible Christian church and its government

David Dickson commenting on Psalm 47:9 shows that the visible Church can, should and will be one in its government throughout the world.

'As there is a necessity of the union of Jews and Gentiles in one visible Christian church, because it is promised and prophesied that it shall be so; so there is reason to wish for the more evident union of them, that they may be as eminently consociate as ever the Christian churches were, either in the Apostles' time, or in the Christian emperors' time, in a general assembly or oecumenical council; because there is at least a possibility of an oecumenical council, or a general assembly of Jews and Gentiles in this world under Christ their King. This place makes it plain, because after it is foretold that there shall be such a union of all the people of the God of Abraham, Jews and Gentiles, as their princes shall be gathered together, he takes away the chief ground of a great objection which may be made from the discord and disagreement of the princes of the world; some of them being averse altogether from the Christian religion, some of them from the true religion of Christ, and all of them almost dissenting one from another, and warring one against another; whereby now for many years the gathering of an cecumenical council hath not been possible. He meeteth this objection in the text, saying, for the shields of the earth belong unto God, that is, the hearts and power of all the kings of the earth are in the Lord's hand, and he hath the disposing of shields, armies, and ammunition, with all their commanders and rulers in the world, and therefore can make them serviceable for the nearest conjunction and union of his visible church, which can be for his glory in this world, as he sees fit, how and when he will.'

We need to recover the worldwide vision of the Second Reformation divines. Rutherford and Gillespie stressed on several occasions the ideal of an ecumenical Council of national churches. It is important to bear in mind the remarks of James Walker:
'The visible church, in the idea of the Scottish theologians, is catholic. You have not an indefinite number of Parochial, or Congregational, or National churches, constituting, as it were, so many ecclesiastical individualities, but one great spiritual republic, of which these various organizations form a part. The visible church is not a genus, so to speak, with so many species under it. It is thus you may think of the State, but the visible church is a totum integrale, it is an empire. The churches of the various nationalities constitute the provinces of this empire; and though they are so far independent of each other, yet they are so one, that membership in one is membership in all, and separation from one is separation from all . . . This conception of the church, of which, in at least some aspects, we have practically so much lost sight, had a firm hold of the Scottish theologians of the seventeenth century.' Dr. James Walker in The Theology of Theologians of Scotland. (Edinburgh: Rpt. Knox Press, 1982) Lecture iv. pp.95-6.